At Jennifer Maxson & Associates, we’ve had many longtime partners tell us they are nervous to go back to in-person work interactions. After so many months of adapting to work-from-home, they feel rusty with professional, physical interactions. They’re looking to us for practical ways to jump back into a physical or hybrid work environment.
If you’re feeling nervous about heading back to the office, you are not alone! But don’t let yourself become overly anxious. Think about all the adaptations you’ve already overcome with the virtual workspace. If you were able to cope with the sounds of lawn mowers interrupting your meetings, handling the kids and pets outside your door, and having to expand your wifi bandwidth, then you can do this, too!
Here are some practical ways you can prepare yourself to lead and communicate effectively as you head back into the office:
- Practice, Practice, Practice
Don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed. You know how to do this, you just haven’t exercised these communication muscles in a long time. Reframe your thoughts, and commit to practicing the skills that need some work.
Consider an athlete training for a marathon: you can’t just jump off the couch one day and expect your body to perform perfectly. Instead, it takes slow and steady exercise of those muscles to reach your desired goal.
- Hone Your Message
While digital tools make our lives easier, they also can contribute to mental clutter. This was true even prior to 2020, but it’s especially crucial a year and a half into the COVID-19 pandemic. At this point, we’re all in different stages of burnout and excitement. We’re feeling burnt out on Zoom, and maybe we’re feeling excited to come back to the office, or excited to stay virtual. We have so many notifications from our email inbox to our social media pages that we have become skilled at tuning out messages.
Our audiences are thinking: If you don’t make it easy for me to listen and understand, I’m not going to take the extra effort to figure it out. If you don’t tell me why I need to care, I’m not going to care. We don’t have enough mental capacity left over for anything complicated.
Effective leaders must break through the digital clutter and Zoom fatigue by prioritizing clear & simple communications. Tell your audience why they should listen, explain what’s in it for them, and clearly direct them what to do next. The hard part is that your audience’s needs change all the time. You need to take the time to think about this before every communication.
- Ask Good Questions
Before your first in-person meeting with a contact, consider: Is this the same relationship it was a year ago? How should it be different from a video call? Does my message need to change?
If you haven’t met a team member or client in person for several months, don’t assume you’re going to pick up right where you left last time. Ask yourself, What has changed since we last met? How can I start rebuilding this relationship?
When preparing your message, think about: What’s the objective of this meeting? Are we talking about a large project, or a small one? What is my audience’s primary concern? You need to show up—be bright, be brief, and be gone—just like you did on the video calls.
If you’ve got cold feet about heading back into the office, that’s okay. With a little practice and preparation, we’ve got this. We’ve done it before. And now we’ve got new skills that can make our interactions even better.
Interested in how Jennifer Maxson & Associates can help bring your leadership and communication skills to the next level? Get in touch with a member of our team. We’re happy to walk alongside you on your leadership journey.